Empowered in Gaza: Why aid is not just a sticking plaster

Laurie Lee
Ahlam at her greenhouse supported by CARE's livelihoods rehabilitation programme

Approaching Gaza it is hard not to think that it’s a lost cause. But Ahlam’s story shows that humanitarian aid can be more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

After Israeli bombardments in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and an increasingly severe blockade in recent years, it can sometimes be hard to see how aid can help Gaza. The economy is near collapse. We met one farmer co-op of 800 farmers, including 300 women, whose annual sales and exports have dropped from $1.5m ($1,875 each on average) to $250,000 ($312.50 each) since an Israeli tank shelled their fruit and vegetable packing production line.

But in Gaza I met Ahlam. She lives near the border to Israel. From her greenhouse we could see how close the border was. Before the 2014 war, she was widowed. Her husband was the farmer in the family, not her, and so she rented out her husband's greenhouse for a little income.

Recovering and rebuilding

During the war, her greenhouse was damaged by Israeli tanks. The frame, roof and irrigation tubes were destroyed.

Under a livelihoods rehabilitation programme supported by CARE after the 2014 bombardments, Ahlam was identified by CARE and our local partner organisation, the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees, as a particularly vulnerable person, as a woman with no livelihood, no husband and eight children.

We helped to rebuild the greenhouse and irrigation system, including rain harvesting to supplement the poor quality well water available in Gaza. She keeps fish in the water tanks to help fertilise her crops.

Training and growing

We also trained Ahlam, both on agriculture techniques and on business practices. She is now successfully growing herbs, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and aubergines for the local market.

Five harvests later, she is doing well. She shows us proudly how much better her herb crop is than her neighbours – but explains that she’s teaching them to use fly nets. And she’s teaching other women in her greenhouse. She wants to share her knowledge with as many people in Gaza as possible. She has become a local leader and inspiration.

Resilient to future shocks

We haven’t just helped her to recover some of what she lost in the 2014 war on Gaza. She says she’s actually better off now than she was in 2013.

And if the worse came to the worse, and the greenhouse was destroyed again, she’d still be better off than she was in 2014. She is now an empowered, confident and independent woman, with both skills, finance and networks which mean she is more resilient to any future shocks, whether they be from shells, blockades, or climate change.

Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website